Definition of Terms: Dating, Groups & Courtship

Now that I have been blogging on this topic for a while I think it is more than appropriate that I define some terms, especially as they have been applied in Sovereign Grace which is the group Harris is a part of.

Here is a summary of the three stages I have seen:


This is what a lot of people do. It can be a casual date doing things as friends where a person dates different people to see what personality works best for them. It could be a long drawn out thing with no intention of marriage. There is quite a spectrum here. SG moved away from this early in their church history. Incidentally, in Joshua Harris’s “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” book he doesn’t seem to make a distinction between casual dating (as friends) and a long term dating.


This is what Sovereign Grace Ministries started promoting early in their church history (1978). With this approach, singles are encouraged to do things in groups vs. two single people of the opposite sex going out on “dates.” Dating might not have literally been forbidden but it might as well have been. Only after having done a lot of thing in group situations and in that context gotten to know each other was a couple allowed to pursue a relationship and do things one on one.


This system is something SG gravitated to around the mid 90’s. It especially worked well for children growing up in the church. This is an extension of the group approach and goes even further.

With this approach an interested young man must first approach the young woman’s father and gain his approval to court or “woo” as they like to say his daughter. Getting the father’s approval may take some time and is done before the young man can spend any significant time with the young woman to determine if she is even a good match for him.

At one time this approach was introduced as having prospective couple do things around each other’s family where they couldn’t put on a facade for their potential partner but now has moved toward getting the father’s approval first before much contact between the two single people. To me the having to get the father’s permission to “woo” his daughter before you can spend time to get to know her to see if she is a good match is like putting the cart before the horse. How can one know if they want to court a girl until after spending time with her? It’s almost a Catch-22.

I will be curious to see what comments people have about this. Correct me if I am wrong about my definitions.

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Revised 2/25/08

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5 Responses to “Definition of Terms: Dating, Groups & Courtship”

  1. John Says:

    Hey Steve,

    We haven’t written quite as much on dating and relationships as you have, but I thought our article over at ATI addressing the definition of “dating” would fit in well here, so I am providing a link.

    If anyone wants to read an article on what dating is and is not may be interested in this article and in Steve’s comments following it, which all can be found at:

    One major goal of the ATI blog is to stop “word games” in the Church. We consider that the practice of making something seem evil or good by “tweaking” what it means. The Church has condemned both “dating” and even “religion.” If you read our articles on those subjects, then you will get a chance to see what the Bible really says about them. We cite from the English Standard Version most of the time, for those following along (which I encourage – crack a Bible BEFORE forming opinions).

    Peace and love in Christ,


  2. steve240 Says:


    Thanks for posting your link here. Your blog entry has a lot of good discussion and points.

    Unfortunately, the term “dating” has become almost a dirty word in some circles while courtship is held up as being superior.

    There can pros/cons with each. One really needs to think things through which I don’t see in many groups promoting “kissing dating goodbye.”

    Thanks again for your comment and link.

  3. Keith Schooley Says:

    Hi Steve,

    Recently happened on your blog from your link at Jesus Creed, and from what little I’ve seen I really like it. I’m 45 years old, happily married for almost 20 years, and now have teenage sons. When the Courtship Craze swept the church, I initially dismissed it as a silly quibble over semantics. Now I see that there is actually a difference in behavior, and I think the whole thing is much more dangerous than I had supposed.

    While Harris’s critique of “dating” might have had merit, the progression of “courtship” seems impossibly artificial: friendship within groups, then an intimidating encounter with the girl’s father to seek approval for dating-with-intent-to-marry, then “wooing,” in which your relationship gets played out in a glass bubble in front of her family and the whole group, and in which any failure to proceed to the altar constitutes “defrauding.” It’s not surprising that most guys in such a situation opt never to proceed beyond group friendship–developing a relationship is difficult and scary enough without making a lifetime commitment virtually at the beginning of the process.

    I suspect that in almost every situation in which this scenario actually works, the prospective couple has already developed something of a relationship before the guy goes to the girl’s father (and does so with her tacit approval)–which of course is a subversion of how the system is supposed to work.

  4. steve240 Says:


    Thanks for your comment and compliment on my blog.

    I find that “putting the cart before the horse” where a young man is suppose to talk with a girl’s father to get permission to date his daughter with goal of determining if they should marry or not.

    I hear that a lot of couples that appear to go through this process actually have already developed a relationship as you indicate in your comment. It certainly would be a lot for a young man to go through before really even knowing the girl. It also may work in some situations but not all situations.

    One other thing to consider here is does this supposedly better approach produce something bettter. This “alternative” to dating was sold that it would result in less divorce and better matchings of couples. I am not sure it has delivered any better results than the dating some including Harris likes to criticize. At Covenant Life Church where Josh Harris is the Sr. Pastor, divorce is not uncommon.

  5. Ro Says:

    In reading just a few threads of your blog and the comment from Steve240, I think the problem is not in the prospect of a young man having to approach the father, nor even the courtship and wooing, but in trying to take measures that worked in the 1600s-1900s and applying them to the modern age. This approach brings confusion because, as you’ve both mentioned, typically the young people already have a relationship. In the past, these techniques would have been put in place from the conception of their relationship and ideally the young people would have been introduced by their parents. It’s difficult to take two steps backward to take two steps forward and yet I understand what Josh is attempting to resurrect; the formality of dating for a young man, it is much more difficult for a young man to approach a relationship casually if he must first go through the father. Also, the protection of the daughter. Today’s culture puts young women in the position of being metaphorically, a pair of pants say….a guy tries them on to see if they fit, if they don’t, he casts them off and goes on to the next pair. Josh’s approach makes young men think long and hard before attempting to try those pants on and I believe it’s natural at this point in time for young men to feel rebellious toward this idea. In today’s culture, where young men are so noncommittal even into their late twenties and early thirties it’s no wonder contemplating this step would push some of them into just sticking with the group approach….in my opinion this would be where they would have to be encouraged to be different from the world and pull the trigger. Should they be accused of “defrauding”? In the past I believe, they would have been accused of that…because in the process of courting the young lady they would have given the appearance to their whole community (which was usually quite small) the appearance of serious intent. If they did not follow through with marriage the young lady’s reputation was often sullied by the rejection. I suppose Josh’s goal is to artificially create this type of associated weight by the rules and criteria he has outlined, but again in our modern culture it’s difficult to recreate those serious cultural mores when the entire culture has gone so far astray from it’s beginnings and youth are being socialized to play the field. Were there problems with these strict mores in the past? I believe so, they often resulted in a couple not truly knowing one another, remember they were constantly chaperoned and watched when together, before they were married. Nowadays people want to be SURE that this is the right one because having one partner has so many negative connotations in the culture and a Christian young man wants everything to be perfect….this perfect scenario is unattainable however (Satan knows that). I know it’s difficult for a born again adult to adjust themselves to these standards, it seems impossible but in the end do we truly ever get to know one another? My husband and I have been together almost 20 years and we’re still getting to know one another! Unfortunately for Josh the sinful nature will always drive individuals to be legalistic, but I believe the markers Josh has set up are not designed to become a “dating religion”, they are supposed to be tools or principles which a young Christian man and woman should hold in their minds as they approach dating. I believe there is safety in the group and I believe we have to reset the mind set of our singles to realize that relationship is about risk. Was everything perfect with us when God took the risks for relationship with us? Too many people are waiting for that perfect scenario, you just have to jump in with both feet! After group dating for a while you should have a pretty good idea if this person is right for you, if you are of marriageable age.

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